Five-star combo guard Cole Anthony is the most coveted uncommitted recruit going into the spring. With early decisions being made by the top three players in the country, Anthony has been playing the long game and making sure that whatever decision he makes suits him well for what is very likely to be his one-year stay in college.
As it stands now, recruiting analysts everywhere are extremely confident that Anthony will be a Tar Heel. While that sounds like something that should relax Tar Heel Nation, it should be noted that we’ve seen things like this go in a completely different direction before, and Anthony taking this long to decide makes one wonder if Oregon a better chance than pundits are opting to believe. Essentially, Carolina should feel good about Anthony, but to be perfectly blunt: recruiting is weird and it’s hard to feel entirely comfortable until he (or any recruit, honestly) signs to the Tar Heels.
What we do know is that it is extremely important for Roy Williams to seal the deal with Anthony for the 2019-20 season. With everything that has happened this decade with the program, it would be a huge win for the Tar Heels both on and off the court. Let’s take a look at what he brings to the table as an individual, what he brings to the table for the Tar Heels as a whole, and how his commitment will help pad Roy Williams’ resume as a recruiter.
The Scouting Report
When Coby White announced that he was entering the NBA Draft, the disappointment from a “what the team is losing” standpoint could be felt all over the fanbase. As thrilled as everyone was for him, there was the brutal reality along with it that the team was losing one of their best players. White came in and silenced the “freshman point guards don’t perform well” noise surrounding the program, and it is because of this that it’s a bit easier this time around to believe that a player like Cole Anthony should be able to find a way to learn Roy Williams’ system fast and help the team compete in the ACC.
One of Anthony’s biggest strengths as a player is that he has an undeniable killer instinct. It was a trait that was in both Joel Berry and Coby White, and it’s hard to ignore that it has been valuable to have for the past five years. He’s highly athletic, and has no issues finishing at the rim in ways that not many guards in this class are able to. He can score at all three levels on the floor, which was on full display in the weirdly-competitive-by-modern-standards McDonald’s All-American game. His aggressive style of play is something that exists on both sides of the ball, as he averaged 2.3 steals per game his senior year at Oak Hill Academy. As far as the rest of his stats go, Anthony finished this past season averaging 18 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game per the school’s website.
As far as weaknesses go, Anthony has been known to be a bit ball-dominant. One of the biggest criticisms of his game is that he dribbles the ball too much at times, and needs to learn how to be a better facilitator. His decision-making as a point guard needs some work, mainly in regards to making defensive reads and making cleaner passes when he finds an open man. When it comes to his defense, one scouting report questioned whether or not he had the ability to switch onto bigger players, which could be slightly concerning when going up against teams like Virginia, Miami, or NC State that love to play pick-and-roll offense.
Overall, Cole Anthony would be an excellent candidate to fill the sizable hole that Coby White left when he declared for the NBA Draft. Roy Williams will lose some size and speed in White’s absence, but ultimately will gain a projected top-five future NBA Draft pick that will be able to make an immediate impact should he decide to take his talents to Chapel Hill.
Let’s be honest: right now UNC’s roster is about as uninspired as any of their rosters have been in quite a long time. The Heels lost Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Coby White, and Nassir Little, who were an enormous amount of their scoring production this season. The irony here is that the Tar Heels have been able to avoid massive roster turnover thanks to the inability to land multiple one-and-done recruits, mostly thanks to the NCAA investigation that non-UNC fans still claim they were not punished for (yes, recruiting woes count as a punishment, albeit an unofficial one).
As the roster stands right now, the starting lineup could potentially look something like this:
PG - Seventh Woods
SG - Leaky Black
SF - Brandon Robinson
PF - Garrison Brooks
C - Armando Bacot / Sterling Manley
The immediate issue when looking at this starting lineup is that there isn’t a single name there that did anything this season to stand out. Most of them had some good moments, and one could argue that Brandon Robinson played some really great minutes for the Heels down the final stretch of the season, but there wasn’t the usual player that in tournament time had the kind of coming out party that we had been accustomed to the last few seasons.
This is where Cole Anthony becomes an extremely important piece to the puzzle. It’s no secret that one of the most constant keys to success in the NCAA is high-level play coming out of the backcourt, and Anthony would be more than able to deliver. UNC’s frontcourt situation has a lot of potential, as Williams will hopefully have a healthy Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks and five-star signee Armando Bacot. It’s fairly likely that the spacing game plan that was utilized last year is out the window now that the team will not have a starting lineup loaded with shooters, and so what will be key for the team is getting someone that can find ways to excel running an inside-out game plan. Anthony arguably gives the Heels the best chance of doing just that, as he has the tools to collapse the lane, but also to punish teams from deep.
Will Cole Anthony alone give the Heels a preseason national championship team? No. Truth be told, there will still be a lot of work that’ll have to be done by both the current players as well as Roy Williams on the recruiting trail in order to make that happen. However, Anthony makes the possibility of UNC being a title contender a conversation worth considering down the road, which is a lot better than the conversations that would take place without him.
The Recruiting Trail
The worst-kept secret in college basketball is that the North Carolina Tar Heels felt every bit of the NCAA investigation when it came to the recruiting trail. Most infamously, former Duke player Brandon Ingram was very open about how the investigation made him turn away from the Heels. There are other instances where it was pretty obvious that recruits didn’t commit because of everything that was going on, which is something that Roy Williams confirmed was an issue on multiple occasions.
Since then, the Heels have managed to land one-and-done players in Tony Bradley, Nassir Little, and Coby White. While we can debate all day whether or not two of those three players were always destined to be one-and-done, Little was a lock to have a one-year stay in Chapel Hill before going off to the NBA. So far for the 2019-20 season, the Heels do have a five-star player in Armando Bacot, but his NBA potential isn’t something that’s gotten any kind of attention. This is where Cole Anthony comes in.
Maybe it’s a gluttonous thought, but Anthony’s commitment solidifies a consistent track record for Roy Williams and his staff in being able to get one-and-done players. The dark reality in elite recruiting until the NBA gets their rule changed is that the best recruits in the nation are destined to spend a year living the college life before heading off to the pros. For a program like Carolina, it is more important than ever to get those kinds of players, especially considering the current state of the team’s roster. Williams has went on the record in saying that he wants both OADs as well as four-year players, and the Heels have plenty of the latter. Now, it’s time to get a future NBA player.
If the Heels fail to land Anthony, their second-best prospect is Precious Achiuwa, who is currently the 13th best player in the country. Truth be told, UNC needs Achiuwa about as badly as they need Anthony, but Williams has also been eyeing grad transfers to fill in the wing. However, what a grad transfer doesn’t help out with is the “Look at these players that I got to the NBA” factor, and that is something that a transfer isn’t guaranteed to help out with. If Carolina wants to remain relevant in the OAD era, they need to receive a commitment from Cole Anthony in a major way. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if they miss on him for that reason alone, when looking at every single reason mentioned above, it sure seems like it would be.